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8 Best AR-15 Stripped Upper Receivers: Build It Yourself

Not sure what AR-15 stripped upper receiver to get? We go through our personal go-to mil-spec receiver, lightweight, and just plain cool options.

So you’re ready to build your own AR-15 upper but aren’t sure of the upper receiver?

We’ve got you covered with our personal go-to mil-spec receiver and a few unique options that will turn heads.

F1 Firearms Upper with Vortex PST II
F1 Firearms Upper with Vortex PST Gen II

If you haven’t read our AR-15 Guide, which goes over all the components of an AR, I’d suggest starting there first.

Now let’s dive into what you need to know and our top picks for the best AR-15 stripped uppers!

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Mil-Spec Goodness

    Aero Precision Stripped Upper Receiver

    Your bread and butter stripped upper. Hard to beat for the price and quality you get.

  2. Editor's Choice

    Aero Precision M4E1 Stripped Upper Receiver

    The angled cuts on this receiver set it apart from your standard AR-15 upper without costing an arm and a leg.

  3. Best Budget Option

    Aero Precision M4E1 Stripped Upper BLEM

    Blemished uppers from Aero are great for those looking to pinch pennies and save a few dollars without sacrificing quality.

  4. Most Durable

    VLTOR MUR Upper Receiver

    Thicker receiver walls means this upper will last longer and potential have better accuracy.

  5. Lightest Weight Upper

    Battle Arms Development Lightweight Upper

    At only 6.3 ounces, this upper is the lighest option on our list.

  6. Best Billet Receiver

    Bootleg Inc Upper Receiver

    This upper is slick, good looking, and lightweight.

Table of Contents


Upper Receiver Forge Marks

AR-15 Upper Receive Forge Mark
AR-15 Upper Receive Forge Mark

You might have heard about forge marks, which are above the forward assist. These marks designate which metal forging company created the upper blank. The end company (such as Aero Precision) is the one that actually machines the upper into its final state.

Ultimately, the forge mark itself is relatively inconsequential since the quality really comes from the company that machines the blanks.

Best AR-15 Stripped Receivers

1. Aero Precision Stripped Upper Receiver

At $80, the Aero AR15 Stripped Upper Receiver is the gold standard in my mind. This option lets you choose your own forward assist and dust cover. It comes with M4 feed ramps, laser engraved T-marks for the rails, and is also available in several colors for a little bit more.

Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver
Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver

I’ve built almost a dozen AR-15 uppers for myself and my friends and have almost exclusively gone with Aero Precision. They got their start manufacturing for the aerospace industry (name checks out) before moving into AR-15 parts.  

Stripped Upper Receiver and Forward Assist
Stripped Upper Receiver and Forward Assist

Aero has become a titan in the industry, offering complete rifles and even barrels too.

Mil-Spec Goodness
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

I’ve had no problems with any of my builds, and if you do any searches, you’ll see that Aero parts have almost exclusively positive comments.

2. Aero Precision M4E1 Stripped Upper Receiver

The Aero M4E1 is an upgraded version of the mil-spec stripped upper that gives a billet look without the doubling in price. It is my personal favorite for my builds and is what lives on my home defense gun.

Check out our full review of the M4E1.

Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil
Aero Precision M4E1 with 16-Inch Midlength Pencil Barrel

Remember to finish out your stripped upper with an upper parts kit, or simply look at assembled uppers which are basically the same price but with the upper parts already installed.

Editor's Pick Upper Receiver
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Assembled uppers are great if you want to save yourself a little bit of time and potential stress — no need to scrape anything during installation or go nuts trying to get the dust cover on.

Ejection Port Spring
Dust Cover Spring, SnareMan

3. Blemished Aero Uppers

If you’re balling on a budget, you can get a “blemished” version of the stripped or assembled upper (depending on their stock) for roughly 25% off. Blemished means there are some cosmetic abnormalities that do not affect actual function.

The last two builds I’ve done have been with Aero blem uppers, and I had to really look to find the cosmetic problem. And, of course, they’ve all worked perfectly.

Best Budget Option
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

My latest one has a tiny scuff and a small dimple, as shown below. I honestly put more wear on mine during a match! I’d go this route if you want to save a couple of bucks.

Aero Blemished Upper
Aero Blemished Upper. As you can see, many of these imperfections are extremely minor.

The only bad thing is that blems are usually snatched up as soon as they become available.

4. Aero Precision No Forward Assist Upper

If you have never used the forward assist and want to shave some weight off or keep it simple, you might consider the no forward assist upper from Aero.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

In my opinion, I like the look of the forward assist, and I go by the mantra that I’d rather have it and not use it than need it and not have it — especially on a more duty rifle build.

5. VLTOR MUR Upper Receiver

The VLTOR MUR Upper Receiver has thicker walls to make it a more rigid shooting platform which should translate to more accuracy and durability. Plus, it looks different and cool enough to get some envious looks.

Most Durable
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

What do you think of the VLTOR? Rate it below!

Readers' Ratings

5.00/5 (1194)

Your Rating?

6. Battle Arms Development Lightweight Upper

If you want to go lightweight but not at the expense of extreme lightening cuts and possible reduced reliability, then the Battle Arms Development Lightweight Upper might be a great choice.

Coming in at about 6.3 ounces, this upper is nearly half the weight of a standard Aero M4E1 upper (12.3 ounces).

Lightest Weight Upper
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Plus, the Tron-esque design is sure to catch a few looks at the range.

7. F1 Firearms UDR-15-3G Upper Receiver

The F1 UDR-15-3G is another super lightweight option, clocking in at 6.5 ounces.

Although this one is geared towards turning heads at rifle competitions more so than home defense. If you’re in a dusty environment, I’d keep it covered — but otherwise, most reports say that the large cuts don’t affect function even with tons of rounds downrange.

F1 Firearms Upper
Here is the F1 UDR on my competition upper.

However, I have to knock off one point for the inability to use a Magpul BAD lever with this upper.

Lightest Upper Receiver
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

8. Bootleg Inc Upper Receiver

One of my latest builds uses a Bootleg Upper Receiver with their PicLOK handguard. These come with a low-profile brass deflector, no-forward assist, and captured dust cover pin that eliminates the need for an e-clip.

All that nets you an upper receiver that comes in at a scant 7.2 ounces.

Bootleg Upper Receiver and Rail
Bootleg Upper Receiver and Rail

This upper makes for cool and slick build, especially when paired with their adjustable gas BCG (no more switching out your gas block).

Bootleg Upper and Adjustable BCG
Bootleg Upper and Adjustable BCG

If you want something different yet functional, you can’t go wrong with the offerings from Bootleg.

Best Billet Receiver
at OpticsPlanet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve seen our suggestions for the best AR-15 upper receivers, you’re one step closer to your build.

Aero M4E1 16" Build
Aero M4E1 16″ Build

Let us know in the comments below if there is an upper you like that isn’t on the list. And if you’re ready to build, here’s our AR-15 upper assembly visual guide.

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20 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    VLTOR MUR has compatibility issues with some lowers, like the LMT MARS-L, so be aware.

    August 3, 2022 2:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Does the Aero M4E1 enhanced upper have to be used with an Aero hand guard? I’m building and don’t think I want to paint myself onto a corner if I want to change later.


    July 19, 2022 9:51 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      No, I have used numerous brands with the M4E1 builds. Note that some rails that may have anti-rotation tabs may have to be slightly alters, but usually it will not affect performance if everything is torqued correctly. (Also usually doesn't affect appearance either if trimmed properly as they will sit flush.)

      November 30, 2022 6:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aaron Short

    The Firearms industry lacks Imagination, all the AR platforms still look the same as from 60 years ago with very little variations from the originals. with the evolution of polymers & 3D printing and computerised CNC machines. I figured we would e seeing stuff more like the M41A Pulse Rifle from the movie Alien, or at least something more futuristic anyway. Do not get me Wrong I love the AR- Platform and will hopefully have at least one AR till my dying days. I would just like to have the chance to have something of the AR platform more modernised such as the upper and lower receiver just to change the overall look from that tired 60 year old styling isn't it about time the AR platform gets an aesthetic face lift. before some other firearm platform replaces it all together, It has already started, look at the SIG MCX SPEAR XM5 it is already headed in that direction. this rebuttal was just my opinion and not meant to offend anybody I apologise if I did. God Bless and as always LET's Go Brandon and long Live the MAGA KING

    May 16, 2022 3:52 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Simonetti

      Check out SLR Rifleworks upper and lower receivers.

      June 13, 2022 5:43 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Going to modify my S&W M&P 15 Sport from its stock 16" barrel/carbine-length-gas-tube configuration to an 18" barrel with a rifle-length-gas tube configuration. This seems like a good opportunity to transform the gun into a Wilde-chambered unit. Besides a Wilde-configured barrel, what other Wilde-configured parts (if any) will be needed? I can't tell from PewPew's write-ups whether the upper receiver and/or any other components would need to be replaced. Following the "do it right or do it twice" rubric, I want to marshal all of the parts prior to doing this mod.

    September 23, 2019 1:39 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Axel Anderson

      All you'll need is a barrel. Your upper receiver will never need to be changed while changing cartridges. The most you will ever need to change is your bolt, barrel, and magazine. A lot of guys will by whole new upper assemblies because it is easier to switch calibers on the go that way. Hope this helps!

      January 11, 2020 11:55 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Possibly a new gas tube depending on gas system. Mid vs Rifle (VS all others in between, lol)

        November 30, 2022 6:14 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Howdy, Is that Bootleg upper O.D. green ?

    May 23, 2019 5:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I’m looking at using the bootleg upper but reading people say it’s not compatible with their handguards. Can you confirm if it’ll fit with an aero or more generic handguards?

    March 16, 2019 6:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Hi Michael, I got it as a set so I didn't have the chance to try it with others. I'd ask Bootleg or check online to see what other ones are compatible.

      March 17, 2019 11:10 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I like how the first 4 are Aero. Not that I think that is a bad thing.

    January 8, 2019 7:10 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Is the mil spec aero, the numer one of the list, different than the m4e1 aero or the m5e1 where the gas tube goes? I want to do a build with an inconel tube and vseven says their tubes are no go on m4e1 uppers on their site. I dont have both to compare.

    August 12, 2018 5:49 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Yess how r u doing . im having trouble with my ar15 which jamming up in the recycling port for anothe bullet to cycle i was wondering if i can use a different BCG . MY barrel is capable of caliber 223 556. An wondering how can start building my own ar15 to Georgia regulations

    June 15, 2018 8:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Any serious builder should be using BCM stripped uppers exclusively. Mainly for the under cut barrel port. It makes the tightest fit in the industry.

    July 13, 2016 8:18 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Hi Ludas, thanks for your comment! BCM does make some pretty good stuff and I'm looking forward to trying a build with them one day. But so far my aeros have held up with good results.

      July 13, 2016 9:10 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Also worth a look: black rain ordnance. I've yet to build one yet, but did recently get my first ar15 (forged) stripped lower and milled ar10 upper/lower that fits *perfectly* together.

        I may get a couple more in the near future... Silly CA laws coming December 1, but that's another topic.

        I love your site btw! Just found it last night.

        September 1, 2016 7:44 pm
        • Commenter Avatar

          Thanks for reading and for the rec! I've heard of them but haven't had a chance to try them out yet.

          September 2, 2016 5:24 pm
          • Commenter Avatar

            Hey can someone confirm for me if there are any restrictions on the type of Complete Upper Receiver used on a CA "Featureless" AR build? Specifically I am curious about purchasing a Colt LE6920 Upper but it falls on the Calguns flowchart under Appendix A/B of banned weapons. Does this count for a build as well?? Thanks!

            September 25, 2016 3:18 pm
          • Commenter Avatar

            Hi, in short it should be legal since the lower is the part that is regulated. As long as your barrel is the right length and you meet the other featureless criteria when assembled (no flash hider, etc), it should be good to go. Check out the featureless rifle article for more details.

            September 25, 2016 3:28 pm
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